Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Works of John Cassian.: Chapter III. How throughout all the East the services of Tierce, Sext, and None are ended with only three Psalms and prayers each; and the reason why these spiritual offices are assigned more particularly to those hours.
How throughout all the East the services of Tierce, Sext, and None are ended with only three Psalms and prayers each; and the reason why these spiritual offices are assigned more particularly to those hours.
And so in the monasteries of Palestine and Mesopotamia and all the East the services of the above-mentioned hours are ended each day with three Psalms apiece, so that constant prayers may be offered to God at the appointed times, and yet, the spiritual duties being completed with due moderation, the necessary offices of work may not be in any way interfered with: for at these three seasons we know that Daniel the prophet also poured forth his prayers to God day by day in his chamber with the windows open. 719 Nor is it without good reasons that these times are more particularly assigned to religious offices, since at them what completed the promises and summed up our salvation was fulfilled. For we can show that at the third hour the Holy Spirit, who had been of old promised by the prophets, descended in the first instance on the Apostles assembled together for prayer. For when in their astonishment at the speaking with tongues, which proceeded from them through the outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon them, the unbelieving people of the Jews mocked and said that they were full of new wine, then Peter, standing up in the midst of them, said: “Men of Israel, and all ye who dwell at Jerusalem, let this be known unto you, and consider my words. For these men are not, as ye imagine, drunk, since it is the third hour of the day; but this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith the Lord, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. And indeed upon my servants and my handmaids in those days I will pour out of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” 720 And all of this was fulfilled at the third hour, when the Holy Spirit, announced before by the prophets, came at that hour and abode upon the Apostles. But at the sixth hour the spotless Sacrifice, our Lord and Saviour, was offered up to the Father, and, ascending the cross for the salvation of the whole world, made atonement for the sins of mankind, and, despoiling principalities and powers, led them away openly; and all of us who were liable to death and bound by the debt of the handwriting that could not be paid, He freed, by taking it away out of the midst and affixing it to His cross for a trophy. 721 At the same hour, too, to Peter, in an ecstasy of mind, there was divinely revealed both the calling of the Gentiles by the letting down of the Gospel vessel from heaven, and also the cleansing of all the living creatures contained in it, when a voice came to him and said to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat;” 722 which vessel, let down from heaven by the four corners, is plainly seen to signify nothing else than the Gospel. For although, as it is divided by the fourfold narrative of the Evangelists, it seems to have “four corners” (or beginnings), yet the body of the Gospel is but one; embracing, as it does, the birth as well as the Godhead, and the miracles as well as the passion of one and the same Christ. Excellently, too, it says not “of linen” but “as if of linen.” For linen signifies death. Since, then, our Lords death and passion were not undergone by the law of human nature, but of His own free will, it says “as if of linen.” For when dead according to the flesh He was not dead according to the spirit, because “His soul was not left in hell, neither p. 214 did His flesh see corruption.” 723 And again He says: “No man taketh My life from Me but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” 724 And so in this vessel of the Gospels let down from heaven, that is written by the Holy Ghost, all the nations which were formerly outside the observance of the law and reckoned as unclean now flow together through belief in the faith that they may to their salvation be turned away from the worship of idols and be serviceable for health-giving food, and are brought to Peter and cleansed by the voice of the Lord. But at the ninth hour, penetrating to hades, He there by the brightness of His splendour extinguished the indescribable darkness of hell, and, bursting its brazen gates and breaking the iron bars brought away with Him to the skies the captive band of saints which was there shut up and detained in the darkness of inexorable hell, 725 and, by taking away the fiery sword, restored to paradise its original inhabitants by his pious confession. At the same hour, too, Cornelius, the centurion, continuing with his customary devotion in his prayers, is made aware through the converse of the angel with him that his prayers and alms are remembered before the Lord, and at the ninth hour the mystery 726 of the calling of the Gentiles is clearly shown to him, which had been revealed to Peter in his ecstasy of mind at the sixth hour. In another passage, too, in the Acts of the Apostles, we are told as follows about the same time: “But Peter and John went up into the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.” 727 And by these notices it is clearly proved that these hours were not without good reason consecrated with religious services by holy and apostolic men, and ought to be observed in like manner by us, who, unless we are compelled, as it were, by some rule to discharge these pious offices at least at stated times, either through sloth or through forgetfulness, or being absorbed in business, spend the whole day without engaging in prayer. But concerning the evening sacrifices what is to be said, since even in the Old Testament these are ordered to be offered continually by the law of Moses? For that the morning whole-burnt offerings and evening sacrifices were offered every day continually in the temple, although with figurative offerings, we can show from that which is sung by David: “Let my prayer be set forth in Thy sight as the incense, and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice,” 728 in which place we can understand it in a still higher sense of that true evening sacrifice which was given by the Lord our Saviour in the evening to the Apostles at the Supper, when He instituted the holy mysteries of the Church, and of that evening sacrifice which He Himself, on the following day, in the end of the ages, offered up to the Father by the lifting up of His hands for the salvation of the whole world; which spreading forth of His hands on the Cross is quite correctly called a “lifting up.” For when we were all lying in hades He raised us to heaven, according to the word of His own promise when He says: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto Me.” 729 But concerning Mattins, that also teaches us which it is customary every day to sing at it: “O God, my God, to Thee do I watch at break of day;” and “I will meditate on Thee in the morning;” and “I prevented the dawning of the day and cried;” and again, “Mine eyes to Thee have prevented the morning, that I might meditate on Thy words.” 730 At these hours too that householder in the Gospel hired labourers into his vineyard. For thus also is he described as having hired them in the early morning, which time denotes the Mattin office; then at the third hour; then at the sixth; after this, at the ninth; and last of all, at the eleventh, 731 by which the hour of the lamps 732 is denoted. 733
Cf. Daniel vi. 10.213:720
Acts ii. 14-18.213:721
The whole passage is alluding to Col. 2:14, 15, which runs as follows in the Vulgate: “Delens quad adversum nos erat chirograffum decretis, quod erat contrarium nobis, et ipse tulit de medio, affigens illud cruci, expolians principatus et potestates traduxit confidenter, palam triumphans illos in semet ipso.”213:722
Acts x. 11 sq.214:723
S. John x. 18.214:725
The belief that by the descent into hell our Lord released some who were there detained was almost, if not quite, universal in the early ages, and is recognized by a large number of the Fathers. It is alluded to by so early a writer as Ignatius (Ad Magn. ix.), and appears in Irenæus (IV. c. xlii.) as a tradition of those who had seen the Apostles. See also Tertullian, De Anima, c. lv., and a host of later writers.214:726
Sacramentum. This word is used by Cassian, as by other Latin writers, as the regular equivalent of the Greek, μυστήριον, and as such is applied to sacred truths equally with sacred rites. See Book V. xxxiv.: “Sacramenta scriptorum;” Conferences IX. xxxiv.: “Sacramentum resurrectionis Dominicæ.” And again and again the word is used of the mystery of the Incarnation in the books against Nestorius.214:727
Acts iii. 1.214:728
S. John xii. 32.214:730
Ps. 63:2, 7, Ps. 119:147, 8. In both East and West Psa. 63 has from very early times been used as a morning hymn. See the Apost. Constitutions II. lix., VIII. xxxvii. In the East it is still one of the fixed Psalms at Lauds, as it is also in the West, according to the Roman use. But in Cassians time it had apparently been transferred from Lauds to Prime. See below, c. vi.214:731
S. Matt. xx. 1-6.214:732
Lucernaris hora; i e., the hour for Vespers, which is sometimes called lucernarium or lucernalis. S. Jerome in Ps. cxix. S. Augustine, Sermo i ad fratres in er.214:733
It will be noticed that in this chapter Cassian alludes to five offices: (1) A morning office; (2) the third hour; (3) the sixth; (4) the ninth; and (5) Vespers; and gives the grounds for their observance. Similar grounds are given by Cyprian, De Orat. Dominica sub fine: “For upon the disciples, at the third hour, the Holy Spirit descended, who fulfilled the grace of the Lords promise. Moreover at the sixth hour, Peter, going up to the housetop, was instructed as well by the sign as by the word of God, admonishing him to receive all to the grace of salvation, whereas he was previously doubtful of the receiving of the Gentiles to baptism. And from the sixth hour to the ninth the Lord, being crucified, washed away our sins by His blood; and that He might redeem and quicken us, He then accomplished His victory by His passion. But for us, beloved brethren besides the hours of prayer observed of old, both the times and the sacraments have now increased in number. For we must also pray in the morning, that the Lords resurrection may be celebrated by morning prayer.…Also at the sun-setting and decline of day we must pray again. For since Christ is the true Sun and the true Day, as the worldly sun and day depart, when we pray and ask that light may return to us again, we pray for the advent of Christ, which shall give us the grace of everlasting light.” Cf. also S. Basil, The Greater Monastic Rules, Q. xxxvii., where the same subject is discussed, and Apost. Const. Book VIII. c. xxxiv. In later times the Seven Canonical Hours were all connected with the events of our Lords Passion, and supposed to commemorate His sufferings, as the following stanzas show:—
At Mattins bound, at Prime reviled,
Condemned to death at Tierce,
Nailed to the Cross at Sext, at Nones
His blessed side they pierce.
They take Him down at Vesper-tide,
In grave at Compline lay;
Who thenceforth bids His Church observe
Her sevenfold hours alway.
Next: Chapter IV. How the Mattin office was not appointed by an ancient tradition but was started in our own day for a definite reason.
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